Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America
Prior to the civil rights movement, comedians performed for audiences that were clearly delineated by race. Black comedians performed (primarily) for black audiences and white comedians performed for whites. Yet during the past forty-five years, black comics have become progressively more central to mainstream culture.In Laughing Mad, Bambi Haggins looks at how this transition occurred in a variety of media and shows how these integration processes have empowered black comedians to shape popular notions of the African American conditionâfor better and for worse. Historically, African American performers have been able to use comedy as a pedagogic tool, interjecting astute observations about race relations while the audience is laughing. And yet, Haggins makes the convincing argument that the potential of African American comedy remains fundamentally unfulfilled as long as performances of blackness must be made culturally digestible for mass consumption. Haggins examines the comic televisual and cinematic personae of Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, and Richard Pryor and considers how these figures set the stage for black comedy in the next four decades. She reads Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock as emblematic of the first and second waves of postâcivil rights era African American comedy, and she looks at the socio-cultural politics of Whoopi Goldbergâs comic persona through the lens of gender and crossover. Laughing Mad also explores how the comedy of Dave Chappelle speaks to and for the post-soul generation.
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